Mariners Trade Their Closer to Houston…For Some Reason

marc w · July 27, 2021 at 4:31 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

Ok, hit post a bit too quickly on the gamer, as the context around just got upended. After last night’s confidence-boosting comeback, and with the M’s a game out of playoff position, the M’s have decided to trade closer Kendall Graveman and erstwhile closer Rafael Montero (who’d recently been DFA’d) to…Houston, the team in the away dugout. In exchange, the M’s get 3B Abraham Toro and RP Joe Smith. Uhhhh, yeah.

Abraham Toro has been a prospect for years thanks to a good combination of contact skills/low-K rates and a discerning eye that led him to post high walk totals in the minors. When he started driving the ball in AA, his stock rose further, and while Alex Bregman seemed to block him, he’s had opportunities with injuries to both Bregman and SS Carlos Correa (who would often be replaced by…Bregman). He has, sadly, not taken advantage of those opportunities, and over the course of short stints in three seasons, put up a career MLB line of .193/.276/.350. He’s just 25, and there remains some promise here; it’s not hard to see him putting up something like a Kyle Seager-in-2020 type year with roughly equal Ks and BBs, mixed in with some pop. But he’s not there right now, and it’s an open question both if he’s going to be able to consistently have average power for the corner IF, or if he’ll be able to hit for any kind of average.

Joe Smith is the long-tenured veteran righty. He’s 37, and was great for the Astros as recently as 2019, but seems to be breaking down a bit. He’s a very low-arm-slot/side-arming sinker/slider guy, for the most part. His sinker averages about 86 and gets a tremendous amount of sink…but that may be due to gravity as much as spin. His slider has tons of horizontal movement, too, which you’d kind of expect with his sub-4′ release point. He’s been tough on righties for his career, as you’d expect, but he’s nearing the end and righties have absolutely crushed him this season. The M’s sent one DFA’d player to Houston, and I assume Smith is in this deal in lieu of being DFA’d himself.

What’s the idea here? I mean, I get it, at some level: the M’s are selling high from a position of depth – that’s just what I talked about in yesterday’s post on Jerry’s trade history. I think this cannot be the final deal before the deadline, as, on its own, this simply hurts the team. I know they were never going to mortgage the future to improve 2021, but I also don’t think it’ll fly with either the fanbase or the clubhouse to start stripping 2021 for parts in the middle of a wild card run. I can imagine there are some frustrated players pulling on M’s jerseys tonight.

In part, I think the emergency of both Paul Sewald and Drew Steckenrider made this move *possible*, and it really fills an area of need for Houston (as we, uh, saw last night). But Toro is such on odd get for a closer-at-the-deadline like Graveman. The M’s have to be far higher on Toro than the projections and industry; Toro’s projections show a league average bat (that is, they show clear improvement). But an average defensive 3B with a league average bat does not add up to a league-average 3B.

This is the move of a very, very confident GM, and while I can admire the chutzpah, this move looks pretty bad from a baseball and morale point of view. Perhaps the Mariner most upset right now? Kyle Seager. I have never really imagined that the M’s would pick up his $15M+ team option for 2022, but this move all but slams the door on that. In his final year, his team was making one last run at the postseason he’s never played in. Now, the M’s make a trade that makes that dream much less likely while at the same time bringing in his replacement for 2022.


12 Responses to “Mariners Trade Their Closer to Houston…For Some Reason”

  1. Stevemotivateir on July 27th, 2021 5:15 pm

    Not only does this likely slam the door on the Seager era, it suggests there are still budget issues.

    If Toro is Seager’s replacement, my hope for 2022 is as dead as it is for 2021–and I had hope before this deal.

    Jerry really blew this one. This has to be even more deflating to the players more than the fan base.

  2. heyoka on July 27th, 2021 5:15 pm

    I can hear that balloon deflating sound.

  3. Stevemotivateir on July 27th, 2021 5:35 pm

    Unless they flip Toro in part of a bigger deal, which seems at least somewhat possible after Jerry’s comments, this is just ugly.

  4. schwingy on July 27th, 2021 8:26 pm

    I feel like Dipoto just punched us in the stomach just as we were all simultaneously raising our hands in the air after last night’s amazing win. I’m sorta nauseous actually

  5. bookbook on July 28th, 2021 5:13 am

    I usually agree with the analysis on this site, but I think it bears repeating that the M’s regularly start Jake Bauers. Replacing his PAs with Toro improves the 2021 prospects, possibly by as much or more than the loss of Graveman. Frankly, we could see a bit less of Shed Long and Dylan Moore, as well.

  6. Stevemotivateir on July 28th, 2021 5:47 am

    Imagine if they replaced Bauers or Long with proven veterans and kept Graveman.

    They cheaped out, plain and simple. You get better by adding talent, not subtracting it.

  7. Stevemotivateir on July 28th, 2021 7:02 am

    I bet Kevin Mather went to sleep with a smile on his face last night knowing that, if only for a day, Dipoto replaced him as the villain.

  8. bookbook on July 28th, 2021 8:17 am

    Sure. Jerry’s still hoarding prospects. (giving up Carter Bins and a lottery ticket isn’t giving up a ton).

    I personally prefer the team protect the big upside guys, but I can see disagreeing with that.

  9. eponymous coward on July 28th, 2021 8:53 am

    Graveman isn’t that expensive. He’s making 1.25 million. I mean, I guess Montero… maybe “take this boat anchor if you want a good reliever?”

  10. Sportszilla on July 28th, 2021 10:52 am

    I get the instinct to assume the worst about the Mariners, but I just do not understand the vitriol about this trade from outside of the M’s clubhouse.

    Graveman has been markedly worse since returning from Covid. There’s a decent chance that Joe Smith outpitches him the rest of the season. Even if he doesn’t, the upgrade of putting Toro in the lineup regularly and seeing less Bauers/Long/Moore is likely to eclipse whatever the dropoff from Graveman to Smith is.

    Oh, and they have 4 more years of Toro, who both seems like a cool dude and has legit potential.

    Yes, the timing was awkward, but the trade deadline is when it is, and if Dipoto or any other GM pulled back from a deal because of the result of any single game, they don’t deserve to have the job.

  11. Stevemotivateir on July 28th, 2021 12:13 pm


    Graveman gave up earned runs in 3 of his first 4 outings back, then went on to dominate even more from the 22nd onward (12.1 IP, 10.22 K9, 2.92 BB9, 0 earned runs, 66.7 GB%, 2.10 FIP). I’m not even going to bother with Joe Smith.

    The thing about Toro is that he hasn’t proven anything and doesn’t have a clear defensive home. We’ll presumably see him at 2B most nights for the rest of this season, but right now he isn’t an upgrade over Moore.

    Pretty big ‘if’ while suggesting you’re legitimately trying to contend.

  12. Stevemotivateir on July 29th, 2021 6:53 am

    Eponymous, I wasn’t suggesting Graveman’s contract (which has incentives, by the way) was expensive. I was suggesting they’re cheaping out addressing the infield at the expense of a needed part of the bullpen & leader of the team.

    And it might work. There’s a lot to like about Toro. Like France, he showed he could really hit in the minors flying somewhat under the radar.

    But he’s the kind of player you acquire and start a season focused on development with, rather than a player you hope can pull it together on the fly while trying to get into the postseason.

    Let’s say he offers replacement level production, or even a little better, over the next 2 months and he’s eventually named Seager’s heir at third base.

    Does that tell you Seattle’s looking to spend big on pitching or a second baseman–do whatever (else) it takes to start the season with a team that can legitimately contend?

    To me, it suggests they’re more concerned with spending as little as possible than they are fielding the best team they can.

    Cheaping out. Possibly. I hope that’s not the case.

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